The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (QX6647) Lieutenant Neville Leonard Harpham, 2/15th Battalion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.321
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 17 November 2019
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (QX6647) Lieutenant Neville Leonard Harpham, 2/15th Battalion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

QX6647 Lieutenant Neville Leonard Harpham, 2/15th Battalion
KIA 24 September 1943

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant Neville Leonard Harpham.

Neville Harpham was born on 8 September 1919 in Brisbane, one of four children born to Leonard and Dorothy Harpham. He grew up in the bush of the Dalby area west of Brisbane.

Harpham was a promising student who attended Toowoomba Preparatory School and the Church of England Grammar School in Brisbane. He later attended the Agricultural College at Gatton, won a Meat Board scholarship, and became the first member of his family to study at a tertiary level by studying veterinary science at Queensland University.

He was also a prominent athlete who represented his schools in football and cricket.

At the time of his enlistment, he was in his third year at university, and was living in the Emmanuel College of Queensland University.

Harpham enlisted in the second Australian Imperial Force on 3 June 1940 and began training with the 2/15th Infantry Battalion at Redbank Camp in Brisbane. Harpham was following in the footsteps of his father, who served on Gallipoli in the First World War, and later served as an artillery officer in the British Army on the Western Front.

Neville’s older brother David had enlisted in 1939, and the pair were able to meet up on a number of occasions throughout their service. Their sister Dorothy served as a corporal in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Neville Harpham distinguished himself as a capable soldier early in his service. On 15 June 1940 he was promoted to lance-corporal, and while his unit was serving garrison duties in Darwin he was appointed to specialist intelligence duties. In February 1941 he was promoted to acting corporal, and two months later received a commission as a lieutenant.

In June 1941 he sailed with his unit from Sydney for the war in the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout his period of service there he continued to undertake specialist training with the 9th Australian Division.

In September 1942, while serving with the 2/15th Battalion, he took part in the Battle of El Alamein, with around 220,000Allied troops participating in the epic struggle to push Axis forces out of Egypt.

Harpham and his unit formed part of the right flank of the Allied attack at El Alamein. During the opening phases of the battle Harpham received a shrapnel wound to his right shoulder and was evacuated to the 7th Australian General Hospital. He would not rejoin his unit until November.

Harpham’s exceptional service in North Africa was later recognised when he was mentioned in despatches for “gallant and distinguished service” from the period of 1 May to 22 September 1942.

On his return to his unit from hospital he attended the Middle East Intelligence School Regimental Officers Course and served as an intelligence officer.

In January 1943 he returned with his unit to Australia, where he continued to train, and attended another military intelligence course, this time in air photo interpretation.

Later in 1943 he sailed with his unit from Cairns for Milne Bay in Papua, arriving on the 4th of August. A month later, he participated in the large amphibious landings made by Australian and American troops in the push to take the important town of Lae, on the east coast of New Guinea. Weeks later, Harpham took part in a second amphibious landing, this time capturing nearby Finschhafen.

In the early hours of 22 September 1943, Harpham and troops of the 2/15th Battalion landed on a beach north of Finschhafen and began moving along the coast towards their objective. Their movement was hampered by increasingly heavy Japanese attack by land and air.

At around midday on 24 September 1943, the 2/15th Battalion headquarters received news that Harpham had been hit, believed wounded, likely shot by a Japanese sniper. Given the heavy fighting and difficult terrain, he was not able to be given immediate aid. By 5 pm, a search party sent out to find him and some of his wounded comrades found him dead on the battlefield.

He was 24 years old.

After the war, his younger sister Barbara, following in her fallen brother Neville’s footsteps, became one of the first female veterinary scientists to graduate from the University of Queensland. She later established a cattle station at Dumpu in New Guinea, not far from the terrible fighting at Finschhafen. Despite the fact that she lived in New Guinea for over 40 years, Neville’s older brother David could never bring himself to visit, the memories of the war and Neville’s death were too strong.

Neville Harpham is now buried in the Lae War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea, where over 2,800 Commonwealth soldiers of the Second World War now lie. His headstone holds the inscription:“Unselfish to the end”.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Lieutenant Neville Leonard Harpham, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (QX6647) Lieutenant Neville Leonard Harpham, 2/15th Battalion, Second World War. (video)